Though I haven’t been able to make much time to sew lately, I was very motivated to make my two-year-old daughter a mermaid costume for Halloween this year. I can’t remember now whether the idea for the mermaid costume came from her or me. But, as soon as it was out there, I couldn’t let it go. I found myself excitedly scouring Mood Fabrics for fabrics that could be used to create something inspired by Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I ended up choosing a green and blue sequins for the tail and a dark aqua silk jersey for the tail’s lining, the latter so that the inside of the tail would be soft against her skin. For the bodice I chose a purple spandex and a nude rayon jersey. Finally, I chose three different colors of tulle – teal, aqua, and lavender – trusting they’d come in handy somehow.
When I chose my fabrics, I had an idea for what I wanted the costume to look like but no specific pattern in mind. Around that same time, Megan of the blog Shirley’s Singer and the children’s clothing line Adam and the Bear reminded me that Jalie Sewing Patterns go down to sizes meant for two-year olds. I liked the idea that a single pattern would not only work for me but also be able to grow with my girls. I have previously made two Jalie patterns, the 2908 jeans and the 2796 running skirt, both of which I liked enough to make multiple times. A quick search of their site led me to their Rhythmic Gymnastics Leotard pattern, Jalie 3026, which was close to the overall look I was hoping to achieve in a mermaid costume. If I was okay without explicit shells on the bodice, then all I’d really need to do was modify the skirt into a tail. Now, since I don’t exactly see myself needing a rhythmic gymnastic leotard anytime soon (ever, really!), this pattern didn’t have the versatility I was originally hoping for, but I could imagine modifying the pattern into a simple knit top that would work for all of us. So, into my shopping cart it went!
Funny, through all of my fabric and pattern deliberations, I never even considered what kind of mermaid patterns might already be out there. Even so, Jalie 3026 turned out to be perfect. It was easy enough to modify the tail. After ruling out the idea of making the tail from a tube that surrounded both of her legs (she complained when I gave her a mock up to try!), I decided to make the tail go off to the side. I just lengthened one of the side seams of the skirt so that it would end just above my daughter’s ankle, and then I drew a gently curved hem that connected the new, longer side seam to the original side seam on the other side.
To make the end of the tail, I started by drawing the general shape I was after on some cardboard. I thought the tail should curl upwards so that it wouldn’t drag on the floor, and I kept the fins short so they wouldn’t get in her way. I cut the shape out of the cardboard and used it as a template for my sequins. After the sequined fabric was sewn together, leaving only the end that I intended to sew into the side seam open, I stuffed it with the cardboard template so that it would hold its form and then added a small amount of stuffing so that it had a bit of shape.
I’d actually never sewn sequined fabric before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d read that you’re supposed to pull the sequins out of the seam allowance, but that kind of effort sounded a bit too much for a toddler’s costume. Instead, I left the sequins in place, used clips instead of pins to hold the sequined fabric together, and just sewed over the sequins. My needle didn’t seem to mind at all, though I’m sure the sequins dulled it more than normal fabric would have. The seam allowances at the side seams of the tail are a bit bulky, but not in a way that detracts from the costume. To keep the bulk down at the waist, I enclosed the raw edge of the sequins by folding the lining up and over the top of the sequins and stitching it down, creating a narrow band of solid aqua at the top of the tail and drawing the sequins to the inside at the bottom hem.
The most awkward part of working with sequins was actually cutting it. I was worried about what it might do to my nice shears, so I used my rotary cutter instead. As I pushed my rotary cutter through the fabric, I cut through countless sequins, making quite a mess! The little pieces of cut sequins seemed to end up everywhere.
As soon as I finished the tail, I realized there was no way it was going to be able to hold its upward shape on its own. My husband and I brainstormed different ways to help it defy gravity, and I ultimately decided to add a short length of clear elastic to the tip of the uppermost fin, which I knotted to form a loop for my daughter’s hand. I liked the idea of the tail swishing as she moved her hand.
But, I also had to be honest with myself about how quickly she might tire of having an elastic around her hand, so I added a clear swimsuit hook at the waist side seam to hold the elastic when she didn’t want to (which, it turned out, was pretty much the entirety of trick or treating!).
The trickiest fabric to sew was actually the purple spandex. The stitches wouldn’t grab anywhere I was trying to sew spandex to spandex. I tried different needles and different tensions on my sewing machine, but nothing seemed to help. Thankfully, I was able to sew the side seams with my serger just fine. The only other place where this issue came up was at the leg openings, and it was easy enough to make some knit bindings to tidy up the inside of the leg opening and eliminate the need to fold the spandex over on itself.
I used the tulle to define the top of the waistband, a mini tutu of sorts. I used all three colors – the lavender tulle is surrounded by the aqua, which is then surrounded by the teal. I like the effect of the different colors together, especially since the sequins seems to give off a similar palette of colors.
I’m proud that I was able to make the time to sew for Halloween this year. It’s been quite a fun tradition these last three years. I didn’t get around to sewing anything for Miss Almost-three-months-old, but she slept through the evening activities, so I think it’s okay. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to make something for both of my girls.